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Explained: Can gargling with salt water prevent COVID-19 infection?

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 14-04-2020 Anuradha Mascarenhas

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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Can maintaining throat hygiene prevent COVID-19 infection? While it is hygienic to keep the nose, mouth and throat clear, medical experts note that there is no scientific evidence that these can prevent infection.

© Provided by The Indian Express

“Simple measures like drinking plenty of normal or lukewarm water — plain water or saltwater gargles and a few minutes of steam inhalation at bedtime are ancient traditional household methods, but the public needs to be reminded to keep themselves safe,” said Dr Arvind Chopra, who practises at the Centre for Rheumatology in Pune. Dr Chopra, who chairs a clinical trial group led by the AYUSH Ministry, has written to the Prime Minister for the inclusion of these simple measures in daily health campaigns.

Union Health Ministry update as of 11 pm, April 14. Some states may have reported higher numbers. Only states with the most cases are listed above.

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Dr Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, noted that there is no scientifically proven evidence yet that such measures work against the virus. “However, this is a respiratory virus that works through the nose to the sinuses and into the throat and into airways and lungs. So basically, apart from handwashing and not carrying the virus to the face, there is nothing wrong in drinking warm water or trying steam inhalation.

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There is no immediate proof, but potentially there may be some benefit and, anyway, there is no harm in trying it,” Dr Reddy said.

Experts at the National Institute of Virology said these are timely measures but cannot be looked at as a preventive against the virus.

In its advisories, the World Health Organization has pointed out that there is some limited evidence that regularly rinsing the nose with saline can help people recover more quickly from the common cold. However it has not been shown to prevent respiratory infections. 

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Gargling is a common hygiene measure in several countries and is routinely encouraged with other practices like handwashing and social distancing during the regular flu season.

a close up of a map: Source: Johns Hopkins University, updated at 11:00 pm on April 14. © Provided by The Indian Express Source: Johns Hopkins University, updated at 11:00 pm on April 14.

Gargling can help soothe a sore throat but there is no evidence that the practice will prevent the virus from entering one’s lungs, according to the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health.

Follow the government's latest guidance on safeguarding yourself during the coronavirus pandemic, including travel advice within and outside the country. The World Health Organization has also busted some myths surrounding coronavirus. The Ministry of Health's special helpline is available at +91-11-23978046, ncov2019@gmail.com and ncov2019@gov.in.

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